Turkey has "decided to start the process of Finland's NATO accession in our parliament," Erdogan said after a meeting with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö in Ankara. At a press conference with his Finnish counterpart, Erdogan said he hoped that parliamentary ratification would take place "before the elections". Turkey's parliamentary and presidential elections are scheduled for May 14, but the parliament has to suspend its work about a month beforehand.
"The most important thing is that Finland and Sweden quickly become full members of NATO, not that they join at exactly the same time," said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. Helsinki's membership in NATO will "bolster Finland's security, it will strengthen Sweden's security and it will strengthen NATO's security," added the head of the military alliance.
After Russia's attack on Ukraine, Finland and Sweden gave up their decades-long policy of military neutrality and simultaneously applied for membership in the Western military alliance in May last year. All 30 NATO member states have to agree to this, only Turkey and Hungary have yet to say yes.
Recently, there have been several signals that the simultaneous accession to the Western military alliance initially sought by the Nordic countries cannot be achieved. Turkey has so far blocked Sweden's membership and is demanding tougher action from the government in Stockholm, especially against Kurdish activists in the country, whom Ankara describes as "terrorists".
Finland's President Niinistö described Erdogan's announcement on Friday as "very important for the whole of Finland", but added: "Finland's candidacy is not complete without Sweden's." Finland shares a 1,340-kilometer border with Russia.
At a NATO summit in Madrid in June last year, Finland, Sweden and Turkey signed a tripartite agreement that was intended to pave the way for the two Nordic states to join NATO. However, Turkey has since repeatedly expressed disappointment that it believes Sweden is not meeting its commitments, while it is satisfied with Finland's progress.
On Friday, Sweden regretted not also having received the green light from Ankara. "This is a development that we did not want, but for which we were prepared," Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom told journalists.
During a visit to Berlin on Wednesday, Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said he hoped for a "rapid ratification" of his country's application for membership "after the Turkish elections".
With the green light from Ankara, the pressure on the Hungarian parliament to end its own delays in ratifying NATO membership is increasing. Hungary's right-wing nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban has close ties to Russia's President Vladimir Putin and is at odds with both NATO and the EU on several issues.
Parliament in Budapest began debating the membership applications earlier this month. The vote on Finland's accession is scheduled for March 27, government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs announced on Friday. A decision will be made "later" about Sweden, he said, according to the MTI news agency.